The dust of Patrol Base Shanfield turned to gold as the sun started a long plunge toward the Marjah countryside. As the Marines came forward to pay their final respects, it peeked over hesco walls and snuck under the camouflage netting that covered the place where they knelt in honor of 1st Lt. James R. Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, formerly the commander of 3rd Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, received a hero’s farewell here, Nov. 11.
He was remembered as an unselfish, unwavering warrior who was called to lead Marines.
“He didn’t care about his reputation; he cared about the Marines in his platoon,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Warren, Zimmerman’s platoon sergeant, now the acting 3rd Platoon commander. “There was never any I or me. It was always us.”
“He always protected his Marines,” said Cpl. Joshua Carrier, one of Zimmerman’s squad leaders. “Whenever something bad was coming down the wire, he said, ‘If it didn’t come from me, then it’s not official.’ He fought for our best interests.”
Warren called Zimmerman a natural leader. Zimmerman, he said, had the innate ability to draw from his Marines' knowledge to make his own decisions. Moreover, Zimmerman thrived off the excitement of combat. Warren said he smiled from ear to ear for three straight days after his first big fire fight.
“I think Afghanistan brought out his true character,” said Carrier. “He was honest, hardworking and strong mentally and physically. He was a true warrior, and I think everyone looked up to him when we were out there, getting it on with the enemy. You always knew that if Lt. Zimmerman was coming out on patrol, it was going to be a bad day for the Taliban. He was [relentless], always pushing forward. And I honestly believe that he died doing what he loved: taking it to the bad guy.”
The possibility of death is a reality that everyone in 3rd Platoon has learned to live with, yet they don’t dwell on it, said Warren. They have developed an intimate bond that only a battle-hardened unit can understand. They live from hour-to-hour during the best times; during the worst, between the fragments of a second that it takes an M-16 to eject a spent casing and chamber the next deadly round.
“I remember the last time I talked to Lt. Zimmerman, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” said Carrier. “The night of [Nov. 1], Sgt. Dillon and myself were working out with sir [Zimmerman]. It was around midnight when me and Sgt. Dillon finished, and when sir was done, we sat around [talking] for about half an hour. We talked about our experiences out here and the many close calls we all had. The conversation ended by someone saying, ‘We still got a lot of time left.’”
“And we obviously didn’t think it would be that short. He kept the platoon strong through our four prior KIAs and many casualties. He kept us pushing to try and keep our minds off the pain, and it worked most of the time. It’s what he would want this time – for us to keep pushing in his honor and the honor of all our fallen brothers.”
Zimmerman, a native of Aroostock, Maine, was the son of Russell and Jane Zimmerman, and the husband of Lynel Winters.
His personal decorations include the Purple Heart Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Selective Marine Corps Reserve Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, and the Combat Action Ribbon.